Category Archives: Feminist

Some most excellent links on being an ally.

Keep calm and be an Ally

Tips for allies

101 Everyday Ways for Men to Be Allies to Women by Michael Urbina. I don’t agree with all of Urbina’s points, but there’s enough there to chew over.  The comments are worth a quick skim, and give you an idea of how complicated and contested some ideas can be.

How to be an ally if you are a person with privilege by Frances Kendell.

Tools for White Guys who are Working for Social Change (and other people socialized in a society based on domination)

How to be a (male) feminist ally by Elizabeth Pickett of Feminist Current.

What is a feminist ally? by A Lynn of Nerdy Feminist.

Feminist Allies..?
Resources for Allies over on Geek Feminism Wiki

Don’t be That Guy: by Synecdochic over on LJ.

Critiques of Allie-dom

Straight Allies, White Anti-Racists, Male Feminists (and Other Labels That Mean Nothing to Me) by Spectra Speaks

No more “Allies” by Mia McKenzie of Black Girl Dangerous

And a good response to it by Jamie Utt: So You Call Yourself an Ally: 10 Things All ‘Allies’ Need to Know at Everyday Feminism.

and The Trouble with Male Allies by Meghan Murphy over on Feminist Current.

The problems with white allies and white privilege written by Tanya Golash-Boza.

For Whites Who Consider Being Allies But Find it Much too Tuff from the ever excellent Crunk Feminist Collective

For white privilege, White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack by Peggy McIntosh is a classic in the genre, but even better is this critique of it by Jessie-Lane Metz over at the Toast: Ally-phobia: On the Trayvon Martin Ruling, White Feminism, and the Worst of Best Intentions. I especially recommend following ALL the links in that piece – your mind will thank you.

And inspired by McIntosh’s article, this one compiled by Barry Deutsch on male privilege.

And here’s another one on why we’re not “genderblind” yet.


On being a good ally.

Hanging out on the feminist-y bit of the twitterverse as I do, there are opportunities every so often to shut up, listen and learn. Lately, I’ve been learning more about some of the critiques of white mainstream feminism, particularly from women of colour. Among many of the fantastic resources and posts, I found some tips for white and feminist allies to be very helpful, both in making concrete suggestions and crystallizing some of the issues. I’ve put together some general points here. I’ve also pulled together a bumper crop of amazing links on another post, many of which are much better than this offering, although often targeted at a different audience.

To make sense of this post, it’s useful to understand the term ‘privilege’. ‘Privilege’ is the term given to characteristics that usually confer benefits on those who hold them. White, male, heterosexual, cis-gendered [having your biological sex matching personal gender identity; opposite of transgendered], middle class, and able-bodied are common categories of privilege. That means that the world is set up in a way that those with those attributes will broadly do better than those without, often without those who benefit realising. Privilege is dynamic: in some situations, your privilege in one category can override disadvantage in another. For those who cross multiple categories of disadvantage, the term ‘intersectional’ is sometimes used to discuss the unique problems faced. For a range of historical and cultural reasons, intersectional experiences are often distinctly different to other experiences.

Simple Rules to Follow to be a Good Ally

1. Be an asset. Listen.

Your job as a good ally is to improve the experience of the target group. That’s it. That is your sole role. In an online or social space, that very, very often means listening. Listening without interrupting, without disagreeing, without interjecting, without defending. Arguing with someone you “support” is a giant waste of everyone’s time. If you are struggling with what you hear, ask yourself why. If someone tells you ‘yes, this happens’ and you want to say ‘yes, but…’ or explain why they are wrong or misunderstood something, think about why you feel entitled to override their experience. [Hint: if your impulse is to interrupt or correct someone, there’s a really good chance you’re coming from a place of privilege. In feminist spaces, this is practice is called ‘mansplaining‘ and it’s really annoying as well as being incredibly rude and patronising.]

2. Just listen. Really.

Avoid false equivalences motivated by empathy. You’re human. You want to connect. Resist the urge to interrupt and say “That’s just like…”. That one time a gay guy hit on you? Not the same as being a woman. The substitute teacher mistook you for a boy and you pretended all day? Doesn’t give you unique insight into the trans* experience. Going to Bali and being the only white person on the bus? Not even remotely similar to being a person of colour in Australia.  If you have some bizarre medical condition that makes it impossible for you to listen with a still tongue, at least have the sense to acknowledge the impossibility of truly sharing that experience: “Wow, our experiences have been really different. I’m going to go away and quietly reflect”.

3. Acknowledge your own privilege

Accept that you are probably blind to some or even most of the consequences of your own privilege. I’m a white woman. A few years ago, I was late for the bus and had to chase it to the next stop(s) in order to catch it. I was pretty proud of my athleticism and told the story to a friend, Yousef. Who pointed out that I was lucky I was white, because when brown men wearing backpacks bolt out of a store and run like crazy people assume they are a thief or terrorist and they get stopped. Yep, sometimes privilege means being allowed to run for the bus. Or able to safely hold your partner’s hand in public. Or only being asked where you’re “from” once (funny YouTube on that here) . Or counting on being able to get the ingredients for your favorite childhood dish at the supermarket. Or not being talked over in a meeting.

Sometimes you might feel tired, like maybe you don’t want to point out to your co-worker that their joke was sexist? That’s a privilege. You’re choosing whether or not to put on your ally hat. If only less privileged people could choose to remove their skin colour/sexuality/disability/gender…

4. Privilege is slippery

Most people judge themselves on their intentions and others on their behaviour. Calling out behaviour and not labelling the person can be one way give people a way to save face and move forward [ie “That sounded racist.” vs “You’re racist”.] BUT you need to be aware of whose feelings you’re *really* protecting with this tactic: the perpetrators. Yep, that sneaky ol’ privilege rears its head again. In trying to address an issue, you’ve potentially made more work, because we’re now trying to minimise hurt feelings and discomfort and educate. There’s no easy out for this. Remember: good allies improve the situation for the target group, and create less work for that group. Bad allies make it all about them. Accept that you might have to hurt some privileged feelings, including your own. Especially watch out for derailing tactics.

5. Ally is verb, not a noun

It’s not anyone else’s responsibility to educate you. It’s YOUR responsibility to get educated. Google the stuff you’re interested in. Trace links on wikipedia. Read key theorists (the first two steps will help with this). Read commentaries. Read critiques. Read blogs and counter-blogs. Watch YouTube videos. Read the comments on YouTube videos. Talk to your friends.

Accept that you’re going to f*ck up. You’re going to hurt feelings. You’re going to wade on in with the best of intentions and find out sometimes you’re neither wanted or needed. People are fully capable of fighting on their own behalf, thank you very much. Don’t be an ally for the warm fuzzy feels. Don’t do it because you think it makes you ‘nicer’. Do it because living in a racist, sexist, homophobic, able-ist society is actually kinda crappy for everyone and we all deserve better.

6. Work on your peers

Don’t wander into a new theoretical and experiential space and assume that you can ‘fix it’, or point out something they “haven’t thought of” or explain how ” the real world works”. Chances are, they haven’t misunderstood anything. Your job is not to lead the fight. Your job is to help others like you. You can use your privilege for good here: it’s a sad fact that people are more likely to listen and hear criticism from those who share aspects of their privilege than those who do not. This is especially powerful when you don’t personally gain from it.

You can point out to your boss that there’s room for some more ethnic diversity in the next pile of CVs. You can notice when someone uses their privilege to interrupt and point out that you’d like to hear the rest of what the interrupted person had to say. You can point out that your firm’s parental leave could be improved, even though at 65 you won’t be using it. You can stop someone telling a racist joke. It might feel uncomfortable to interrupt Joe from accounting, but you get to choose your battles. Hello, my old friend privilege!

7. …And sometimes step away from the ‘action’.

Yep, sometimes you’re going to run up against a situation when your eager ally ass is going to be rejected. And you’re going to put on your grown up pants and say “Yeah, I’ll bet it’s going to be amazing to spend a whole night with your community! Have a blast and call me for brunch next week.” Because, once again, this is not about you.

What’s the fuss: Behind the Denise Scott Brown campaign for Pritzker recognition

If you’re a casual dabbler in architecture and design pastures, you probably haven’t heard of the Pritzker Prize. If you’re enmeshed within these rarefied fields, you’ve probably resorted to describing the Pritzker as ‘like the Nobel prize for architecture’ [or if dealing with a mathematician, like the Fields medal for architecture, but without the age limit]. In short, it is a $100 000 cash prize and bronze medallion awarded annually since 1979 to living architects who have made substantial and consistent contributions to humanity through architecture. It is a Very Big Deal.

Currently it also has a small public perception problem: the jury (the exact composition of which changes over time) doesn’t appear to like women or collaboration very much (it also skews towards recognising Western Europeans, but that’s a separate post).

This was certainly the case back in 1991, when the jury rather superciliously announced that the prize was for individuals* rather than partnerships or firms, and thus it would be awarding the Pritzker to Robert Venturi. Alone. As though over 22 years of design and writing collaboration with life partner Denise Scott Brown were somehow separate to his success. A strange choice, and not uncontroversial at the time. In the two decades since, Denise Scott Brown has expressed her not unreasonable disappointment at her exclusion on several different occasions and forums.

At a recent (March 2013) Architect’s Journal Women in Architect lunch, Denise Scott Brown made the following comment (through a pre-recorded message):

“They owe me not a Pritzker Prize but a Pritzker inclusion ceremony. Let’s salute the notion of joint creativity”

For whatever reason, this comment has generated a slew of responses. It’s been reported on blogs dezeen, architizer, archinect, artlystarchdaily and Australian feminist site Parlour [disclosure: in addition to my attributed work, I have previously copywritten and sub-edited for Parlour]. It’s seen a supportively titled column from Rory Olcayto in AJ (the paywall prevents me from reading the content in full) and spawned a petition supported by high profile advocates for gender equity such as Jeremy Till.

Despite the trumpeting blog headlines and petition (which I have signed), DSB is not campaigning for or demanding a Pritzker. She’s doing something considerably more radical and dangerous. She’s advocating for an entirely different way of thinking about how authorship and attribution is recognised and celebrated in architecture. Wrapped up in the Pritzker (and architectural culture more broadly) are a truck load of implicit assumptions about authorship and individuality. By calling for an inclusion ceremony rather than a prize, DSB is both nodding to and swerving around the prize and authorship systems. Once again, we’re Learning from Scott Brown… and I, for one, salute her.

For more scholarly unpacking about the ways that both gender and authorship are implicated in Pritzker Prizes and architecture more widely see the following texts by Hilde Heynen (paywalled), Naomi Stead and Denise Scott Brown herself.

Aside on the “pipeline” argument: the median age of Pritzker winners is 61. In 2013, a 61 year old graduate who went straight from school to university would have graduated in 1974. Since the numbers of female students has increased steadily since then, we’d assume to see the number of women winning the Pritzker to increase steadily in coming years. However, I’m expecting to see a shift towards older recipients (2013 winner Toyo Ito is 72) and an extra lag that will be attributed to delays in women’s careers due to children responsibilities before seeing any measurable increase in recognition for women.

*Strangely, the ban on partnerships was not in effect in 2001 (Swiss duo Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron) or in 2010 (Japan’s Kazuyo Sejima and collaborator Ryue Nishizawa, SANAA). But in 2012, it again chose to snub partners who are also wives with the sole recognition of Wang Shu (and not collaborator and wife Lu Wenyu).

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